At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.
A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.
Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.
The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."
One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”
By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."
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Seattle Secret Shows Treats Ticket Holders to Preview Four Chinookfest BandsSMI (Seattle Music Insider), July 20th
Beebe's lead vocals are amplified, while the 12-string guitar of Noble strums and beats in time. The electric violin skills of Snider are mesmerizing, creating a synthesized melodic strum. Miller's bass and Mercado's drums give off low progressive...Read more
Folk music songwriter Claudia Schmidt returns to Chicago where she got her startVoices, July 18th
The Earl of Old Town, Amazing Grace, Somebody Else's Troubles — They were all clubs that were thriving in 1974 and beyond when Schmidt arrived with her 12-string guitar and songs. Within her first year, she became a regular on their stages and soon...Read more
Summer NAMM 2014: New Taylor 12-StringSonic State, July 17th
Just in time for summer, Taylor Guitars has added to its popular 100 Series with the 150e, a 12-string Dreadnought guitar. They say that the 150e delivers signature Taylor tone and playability in Taylor's most affordable 12-string guitar to date...Read more
Fiesta finale features Mexican music from both side of borderTopeka Capital Journal, July 17th
Characterized by the accordion and the bajo sexto, a 12-string guitar in two double courses, the music is popular on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as much of Latin America. The norteno repertory covers cancion ranchera, corrido, Balada, ...Read more
Acclaimed Guitarists Kick off Tour at McHenry Tree of Life CongregationChicago Tribune, July 17th
Music in Belgium, Lams recently released his first solo CD, Nascent, which features the music of J.S. Bach adapted for steel-string acoustic guitar. Tom Griesgraber is one of the world's most active players of the Chapman Stick, a 12-string guitar...Read more
He doesn't get lost in music; you doBakersfield Californian, July 16th
In any given concert he'll choose among six-string guitars, a modified 12-string guitar, and a Hawaiian lap guitar. "You uncover different layers of things about the songs by getting a different sound and seeing what that evokes in the music." A...Read more
My Guitar: Fergus O'Byrne and his resilient 8-stringCBC.ca, July 12th
O'Byrne converted it from a 12-string guitar into an eight-string by removing the E,A, D and G strings. This conversion allowed the guitar to be played finger-pick style like a conventional six-string while still retaining the orchestral sound of a 12...Read more
Here's a guitarist who just needs one string to jamPublic Radio International, July 7th
When the rest of the world is playing a six- or 12-string guitar, don't think you've failed if what you end up mastering is a one-string guitar. That's exactly what happened to a Jamaican musician who goes by the name Brushy One-String. His dad was...Read more